Interview with Maria Viirros

Written by Aleksandra Stasiak
Photo by Sissel Xenia Reese Hansen

Maria Viirros is a Finnish artist and a third-year Bachelor student at the Oslo National Academy of Arts, KHiO. The artist exhibited last spring at Galleri Neuf with the exhibition «No Man’s Land» and the 1st of November she is preparing for a new duo exhibition at Galleri Seilduken.

Maria Viirros moved to Norway for the exchange programme in 2017 at KHiO. Intaglio printmaking, which she mostly works with, is not the most popular technique in Finland, whereas this field gives much more possibilities in Oslo. Her personal reasons for searching something new and having a penchant for heavy music threw her eventually to the capital of black metal.

Has the new environment shaped your artistic practice in some way?

Yeah, of course. I think KHiO has such a great facility, where you have basically everything, and the only thing that is asked from you is to show up and work. It is perfect for me because I like to get into a mode where I do not see anything else but the work I am doing. Having KHiO as a place to work is so indulgent in a way that it is really easy to produce and produce and find new ways of working.

Do you plan to stay or to move back to Finland?

For now, I want to stay. I actually liked the university so much that I transferred myself here as a student and I will be finishing my degree here. I really like Norway, and Finland is in a bad situation right now, because of the government. It is difficult to work there as an artist, because of practical matters, like when it comes to getting grants, having exhibitions or places to work. In Oslo, there are so many opportunities. I just moved here and have only been here for 10 months. I’ve learned the language, I have a job, I have a social circle and why not? I really like it here. So, for now, I plan on staying here.

Let’s talk about your artistic practice. Do you remember a moment when you decided that you wanted to do art?

That’s a very difficult question because I kind of ended up being an artist because I am a really stubborn person. Motivation is a big thing for me. I need to be motivated in order to work in a good way. I find being an artist gives you a freedom because you are the dictator of your own work.

I’ve always hated the academic way of just sitting down and reading, while other people tell you that you need to read this and that, and after you’ll have an exam. I really do not like other people telling me what I need to be doing. Therefore I always found art to be really interesting. After so many years of doing it, I figured out that I am not really an artistic person (if that makes sense!). But it is more about enjoying the process. It is something that I can focus on and I can get into the details and do a very nerdy job with. My practice is technical, based on intaglio printmaking. It is important for me to have an artistically free carrier. Like I could never do painting because it is so loose and flowy. And this is not who I am as a person. I need to have a structure - but I need to have a free structure.

I go to many exhibitions and sometimes I find it a bit boring when there is a lot of text and a lot of talk about the idea and so much excess of other things presented with the art. You look at the work and the work becomes an illustration of the idea. I am trying to do the opposite. The work is always the main thing. I can rely on my work and feel confident that it is good by itself. There is no need to have anything flashy about it because it is good enough.

It is great that you have found your own way out. Are you inspired by something in particular?

Well, obviously the aesthetic I chose is something that comes very natural to me. A lot of my personal preferences affect what I do. I have noticed that my Finnish-ness plays an important part in my work. I think it has always been there but I could only see it when I moved here. In my work, the subjects are so heavy - I talk about death, I talk about melancholy and suffering. All themes that are are so present in my culture. It sounds horrible, but it is true.

I’m also affected by my everyday private life. I use things that happened to my family. You need to put something personal in the work to have that realness. Some people do landscapes and they do it really nicely but I personally couldn’t, because I would not find motivation in there if it is not about me. It sounds so narcissistic… and it is because I have to put myself into it. I talk about such big things, life, and death. I can’t really approach a topic like that without looking at it from my own perspective. Art to me is a language on its own. I do it because I cannot say things in a better way in any other communication form.

Can you explain how you would like your work to be transmitted to the public?

I do not really think about it that much. I only hope that it gives you something and it brings up an emotion. I met so many people that have been angry at my work because it is so violent. When somebody commented, «Oh have you ever thought that maybe there is an immigrant that sees your work and might get upset because you use images of bullets and violence?» Well… I have been thinking about it but I will not stop doing it because someone might get offended. At the same time, if somebody gets offended maybe it is a positive thing because that shows that we have issues in the world. It feels that I have two audiences. Either there are people who think that what I do is super cool, cathartic and beautiful, or other people who think my work is horrible and I should not do it because it’s depressing. I find that interesting that there is always a love-hate thing going on.

It seems that your work always generates a response. It might be positive or negative but it is always intense.

I guess it comes from the themes I work with. You cannot be neutral about suffering.

Exactly. When it comes to suffering, in your work, there are lots of motives like bullets, knives, pain, melancholy or rage. Is Finland itself the main influence or are there some other influences?

I think my ‘finnishness’ is the way I perceive myself and it kind of filters the work I put through. Obviously, my culture affects how I perceive things and how I experience and handle them. But it is more universal than that. It is not really about Finland. It is about me being the filter, experiencing and seeing these things happening around me and trying to put it into the piece of art. I try not to make my works too specific so that it won’t be only for a certain audience. I try to make work without boundaries, so that you do not need to know a lot about things beforehand in order to understand it correctly. You do not need to know this artist or this political trouble that has been happening. I try to create a raw experience. About just being in the moment and experiencing what is going on.  

Does the physical process of making the work influence the way you think about the work? What relationship do the making of the work and the result have with each other?

My process is my life in some way. I have been doing it for so long that I do not really see the starting point anymore, or when it ends. I spend a lot of time in the workshop, I do a lot of technical studies. I have really no clue about how it works but it helps when I am just doing something with a certain material. I find that printmaking is a lot about letting the work create itself. And you, as an artist, are not in full control. It is really natural for me to keep on working with similar imagery over time. I am seeking into the same motives and the process is very natural and yet I still find some variations in there. I try to look at things from several different viewpoints and find nuances within the same concepts.

I try not to think about the end result too much when I’m making work because then you lock yourself into the idea and don’t really see the opportunity that is present inside the process. Especially with printmaking where you can always go back and change the color, change the paper or something in the plate. If you only think of the “perfect result” then you miss all the good stuff happening within the process. Like sometimes during the process the chemicals react in a way you didn’t expect and turn out to be super cool. You could think of it as a waste of copper as you didn’t get that perfect result you were looking for, but you actually got something better in the process. So I try to keep an open mind. It is important that you enjoy what you do, so you will see it in the end result.

Are you inspired by any artists in particular?

Yes, Hugo Simberg is a really big influence to me. He is from the golden era of Finnish arts. When I look at his line of working and his practice, they are somehow similar to mine, and he was producing so much and repeating the same images. He has a softer way of approaching his themes than me. I like his stuff.

I find a lot of inspiration in musicians, like Ville Pirinen. He does illustration and super cool comics as well. I like Adam Darski, hehe! One does not really need to be a visual artist for me to find something interesting in their line of work. I do not get inspired by art in that way. I get inspired by experience. So I go to art shows and exhibitions and I enjoy art. But it doesn’t really give me anything I can work with. If it is visual, it usually is someone from art history that I can look at from a distance and see as a reference.

What came first, music or art?

I think art came first. Music affects me but it is more about the emotion I’m trying to go for. When you go to a concert and you close your eyes and you enjoy all that. You think «these guys know too well what’s going on and they put it into a song» - and I can put it onto a piece of paper and print. We are doing kind of the same thing but the medium is different.

Your work feels a bit like heavy music, where you have a difficult topic expressed in a powerful way. I perceive your work as melancholic, as an intense feeling that is put into an aesthetic form.

It is actually what I’m trying to go for. Acknowledging what is going on. I have trouble with this world, where everything perceived as negative is being avoided. It is as if you did not even exist and walk by yourself blindfolded. I find life boring if you don’t have a full spectrum and don’t try to approach those negative aspects. So I try to see the value in them.

What are your plans for the future?

Oh, I’m doing a duo show with a friend of mine at Gallery Seilduken. Erik Blomqvist, he is a jewelry maker. We share a similar aesthetic tone in our work. So it will be interesting to see our crafts discussing each other in a shared space. My intaglio prints with his forged iron rings, it will be great. The opening is Tuesday, November 1st at 18.00 at Galleri Seilduken.

Thank you very much!